Your body experienced many changes when you started breastfeeding. Now that you’re nearing the end of this special period in your life, what changes can you expect?
From physical changes to your breasts to more intangible effects on your mood and emotions, it’s more than you may think. However, it can be an easier transition when you’re prepared and armed with a bit of knowledge.
If you have questions about what happens when you stop breastfeeding, you’re not alone. In this article, we’ll go over some of the answers to help you through the changes.
When Should You Stop Breastfeeding?
The decision to stop breastfeeding is a highly personal one and the answer is different for everyone.
Some breastfeed until their child begins to eat solid food. Some continue into the toddler years. Some can choose when to stop, and some must end abruptly due to medical reasons or circumstances beyond their control.
Because of the many circumstances women face, it’s hard to set an exact milestone when breastfeeding should stop for every woman. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics offers a goal to strive for that is best for baby. They suggest (1):
- Breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months.
- Breastfeeding alongside other foods until your baby turns one.
- Continuing to breastfeed after the age of one if both mother and baby are doing well with it.
Experts suggest the average age of weaning worldwide is 2.5 years. In some places, weaning happens much earlier, and in others, babies breastfeed longer. At the end of the day, only you can make the decision when to stop breastfeeding.
What Happens When You Stop Breastfeeding
If you’ve decided to stop breastfeeding, here are five changes you can expect to go through. Every mom, however, has a different experience and it’s important to stay in touch with your doctor and lactation consultant if you’re worried about anything.
1. Drying Milk Supply
One of the largest changes affects your milk supply. When you stop breastfeeding, your body naturally begins the process of stopping milk production. This process, however, takes time.
A general rule of thumb is that the longer you’ve been producing milk, the longer it will take to dry up (2). The breastfeeding process is regulated by hormones and if they’ve been consistently running, it will take some time for the body to adjust.
Most moms see the bulk of milk gone within 7 to 10 days after stopping breastfeeding, especially if you’ve naturally been decreasing the number of feedings you do each day.
You may still be able to express a little milk for weeks or even months to come.
Any stimulation to your breasts – sometimes even as simple as water running over them in the shower – can potentially prolong the process of milk drying up.
Editor's Note:Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
2. Engorged Breasts
A slow weaning process is your most comfortable option to gently stop your milk production, but you may still experience feelings of fullness and tightness, especially at first.
Avoid expressing or pumping milk at this time. If you have extreme pain, express a little milk just to comfort, but do not drain your breasts completely. Doing so triggers your body into creating more milk, lengthening out the drying up process.
3. Feeling Sad
Because your hormones change when you stop breastfeeding, you may experience some heightened emotions, including feelings of sadness.
Not only does this occur because of drops in prolactin and oxytocin, but because it’s natural to struggle with change (3). You’ve put so much work into breastfeeding and if you use it as a bonding tool, it can be hard to let go. And seeing your baby growing into toddlerhood can be bittersweet.
Look to build other bonding experiences with your baby as you stop breastfeeding to help keep your mood up and make the transition easier.
4. Saggy Breasts
It’s ok to wonder about the appearance of your breasts. Many women worry their breasts will become extra saggy after breastfeeding. Whether you breastfeed or not, your breasts will likely be changed from before pregnancy. Breastfeeding is just one of many factors to determine what your breasts will look like. Others include genetics, weight, health habits, and age (4).
Some women don’t have saggy breasts after they stop breastfeeding, but some do. It occurs because the milk production system inside your breasts, namely the milk ducts and milk itself, stretch out the breast as it fills. Once the system returns to its pre-pregnancy size after milk production stops, the breasts may sag (5).
While some moms may struggle with the new look, sagging breasts pose no medical threat.
5. Your Menstrual Cycle
Breastfeeding affects fertility, though to what degree is as varied as there are moms. Studies have found women who breastfeed exclusively often don’t have their periods. This is because nursing at such regular intervals stops the hormones responsible for menstruation from activating (6).
If this has been your experience, be prepared for your menstrual cycle to return once you start weaning and stop breastfeeding altogether. It may also cause a peak in your fertility levels; even if you bleed while breastfeeding, your body may not have ovulated, producing an egg. If you are not ready to become pregnant again, be sure you are using contraception.
If You Have Any Questions
Do you have more questions about the changes you’ll experience when you stop breastfeeding? We suggest working with your doctor or a lactation consultant. Just as lactation consultants can help you begin nursing, they can also help you as you stop.
Trust your body. If you feel highly unusual or notice any changes in your physical or mental health, don’t be afraid to talk to someone about it.
What Changed For You?
A multitude of changes is common when you stop breastfeeding. Each mom has a different experience based on when she decides to stop, how quickly she stops, her age, genetics, and more. Adjusting to these changes is a process and if you have questions, we’d love to hear them in the comments.
What changes did you experience when you stopped breastfeeding? We’d love to hear what they were and how you handled them. Your experience may answer some questions another mom has.